Jell-O

Jell-O

For longer than any of us have walked the earth, people have enjoyed a dessert known the world over as Jell-O. Easy and inexpensive to make, this versatile product has jiggled its way into our culture for well over a hundred years and comforted us throughout childhood and adulthood alike.

The primary ingredient of Jell-O is gelatin, a substance made from (hopefully you already knew this) boiled animal bones that has been used since the 15th century, although back then it was expensive to produce. Then, in 1845, the same man who invented the steam locomotive (we kid you not) patented a process for turning gelatin into powder, which lowered the price and made it easy to manufacture in mass quantities.

It took another fifty years or so before someone decided to trademark a flavored version in 1897. By the early 1900s, recipes and cookbooks heralded the powdered substance “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” Available in strawberry, raspberry, lemon, orange, peach and cherry, the product caught on like wildfire. The Genesee Pure Food Company (who owned the rights to the dessert) officially became the Jell-O company in 1923. Today, the trademark is owned by Kraft Foods.

Jell-O comes in powdered form, which is then boiled until it dissolves before being chilled so it can set into its solid but jiggly form. The product can be purchased either sweetened or not and formed into any shape by use of a mold. While many are content to eat it by itself, perhaps with a dollop of whipped cream on top, adventurous moms have long included in recipes, sometimes with rather suspect ingredients added in. Celery, raisins, carrots, green peppers and even pasta are all found in various Jell-O recipes. In fact, for a brief time in the 50s, one could buy celery, Italian, mixed vegetable and tomato flavored Jell-O. Thankfully, clearer minds prevailed and those flavors disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived.

More fruit flavors were added in the 60s, including apple, black cherry and grape, as Jell-O’s popularity continued to rise. The company also introduced a line of pudding desserts and a No-Bake cheesecake in 1966. Around the same time, the company rolled out its slogan “There’s always room for Jell-O.”

Jell-O remained strong through the 70s, with Jell-O salads frequently rearing their heads at holidays, backyard barbecues and other festive gatherings. Bill Cosby became the spokesperson for Jell-O in 1974 and helped the company launch one of its most beloved products of all time in the early 80s, the Jell-O Pudding Pop.

Though not quite as popular a dessert with children as it once was, Jell-O does have another more-adult use that we shouldn’t fail to mention, a party favorite known as the Jell-O shot. Simply brew up a batch of Jell-O, replacing half of the water with your prefered alcohol (vodka works best, or so we’ve heard). Let the product set in little paper cups (something similar to a Dixie Riddle Cup perhaps), then pass them out to your party guests and watch merriment and mayhem ensue.

No matter how you enjoy your Jell-O – in a parfait with layers of whipped cream, in a bundt cake-shaped mold with celery and raisins, or as a solidified alcoholic beverage, one thing is clear – Jell-O has jiggled long before we were born, and will continue to do so long after we are gone.

If you have fond memories of eating Jell-O as a kid, or have your own preferred way of consuming this sweetened comfort food, we hope you’ll take a moment to share all of your Jell-O thoughts and memories in our comments section below.

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